Health Highlights: Oct. 21, 2007
Homeowners Urged to Get the Lead Out
National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week gets under way Oct. 21, and the theme for this year is "Protect Our Most Valuable Resource -- Our Children."
To make that happen, the week is designed to educate parents and children about the dangers of lead exposure, especially lead-paint hazards in housing. Many states and communities will offer free lead screening, and conduct education and awareness events.
Lead is highly toxic and can cause a range of health problems, from behavioral problems and learning disabilities, to seizures and even death. Children 6 years old and younger are at greatest risk because their bodies are growing quickly, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Lead exposure among young children has been drastically reduced over the last three decades, thanks to federal, state and local laws that banned lead in gasoline and house paint, as well as efforts to reduce or clean up lead in industrial emissions, drinking water, consumer goods, hazardous sites and other sources. In 1978, there were about 13.5 million children in the United States with elevated blood-lead levels. Today, approximately 310,000 children ages 1 to 5 years old have elevated blood-lead levels, the EPA said.
The federal government aims to eliminate childhood lead poisoning by 2010, according to the EPA.
Most lead exposure occurs when people eat lead-paint chips or lead dust. But the EPA estimates that 10 percent to 20 percent of human exposure may come from lead in drinking water.
To learn more about free lead screenings and Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, visit this EPA site. To order the DVD What Your School or Child Care Facility Should Know About Lead in Drinking Water, visit this site.
Drought Forces Georgia Gov. to Declare Part of State a National Disaster
Georgia governor Sonny Perdue Saturday declared the northern part of his state a natural disaster area, and asked for a similar declaration from President Bush.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports Perdue's emergency measure came a day after state lawyers had argued in federal court that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers should reduce the amount of water it releases daily to protect endangered animal species. Georgia is suffering through its worst-ever drought.
"The actions of the Army Corps of Engineers and the Fish and Wildlife Service are not only irresponsible, they are downright dangerous," the newspaper quotes Perdue as saying.
Meanwhile, USA Today reports that mandatory water rationing is just around the corner in Georgia. The state's environmental commissioner Carol Couch told the newspaper that industrial and commercial water users will probably have to make "across-the-board reductions" very soon.
The drought has hit much of the Southeast hard this year. In addition to Georgia, it is the worst dry spell ever for North Carolina and Tennessee, second-driest in Alabama and third-driest in Kentucky, USA Today reports.
Obesity Gets an Airing in British Parliament
So much of American society is based on its British heritage that it's unusual to see something of American society become part of the United Kingdom.
It's not a desirable habit, either. Just as in the United States, the Associated Press reports, obesity has become part of the fabric of British life. So much so that UK health secretary Alan Johnson had to explain its causes in a speech to Parliament Friday.
Johnson said that 60 percent of British citizens might be obese by 2050, the A.P. reports, but he didn't so much blame obesity on bad eating habits as he did a combination of factors: "a consequence of abundance, convenience and underlying biology."
A study by a division the UK's Office for Science concludes that excess weight has become the norm in Britain, the wire service reports, with one-in-four adults considered obese, which is still better than the United States, where one-third of all adults are obese, the A.P. said.
Some of the ways to prevent obesity from taking over the Great Britain, the government says, are taking action earlier with young, overweight children; exercising control over high calorie foods; redesigning municipalities to demand more physical exertion by residents; and making employers more responsible for their workers' health.
Impotence Drugs to Carry Hearing Loss Warnings
New warnings about the potential risk of sudden hearing loss will be added to the labels of Viagra and other drugs to treat erectile dysfunction, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says.
While it's not clear whether the drugs actually do cause hearing loss, the FDA said that since 1996 there have been 29 reports of hearing problems among users of these kinds of drugs, the Associated Press reported.
The new warnings will be carried by the impotence drugs Viagra, Cialis and Levitra, as well as the pulmonary hypertension drug Revatio, which contains the same ingredient as Viagra.
In the 29 reports noted by the FDA, hearing loss occurred within hours to two days after patients took one of the drugs, said FDA ear-and-nose specialist Dr. Robert Boucher.
"We don't know enough to say that it's ironclad caused by the drugs, but we see enough to say we can't ignore it either," he told the AP.
People who take the drugs and experience hearing loss or ringing in the ears should stop the medications and contact their doctor, the FDA said.
Sunlight May Decrease Risk of Advanced Breast Cancer
Exposure to sunlight -- which boosts levels of vitamin D in the body -- may reduce the risk of advanced breast cancer, according to a U.S. study published online this week in the American Journal of Epidemiology.
The study of 1,788 breast cancer patients and 2,129 women who didn't have the disease found that women with high sun exposure had half the risk of developing advanced breast cancer than women with low sun exposure. However, this effect was noted only in women with naturally light skin color.
"We believe that sunlight helps to reduce women's risk of breast cancer because the body manufactures the active form of vitamin D from exposure to sunlight," lead researcher Esther John, of the Northern California Cancer Center, said in a statement. "It is possible that these effects were observed only among light-skinned women because sun exposure produces less vitamin D among women with naturally darker pigmentation."
John and her colleagues emphasized that women should not sunbathe in an attempt to reduce their breast cancer risk.
"If future studies continue to show reductions in breast cancer risk associated with sun exposure, increasing vitamin D intake from diet and supplements may be the safest solution to achieve adequate levels of vitamin D," co-researcher Gary Schwartz, of the Comprehensive Cancer Center at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, said in a statement.
Bad Habits Increase Osteoporosis Risk
Smoking, excess alcohol consumption, being underweight, lack of exercise, and poor nutrition are factors that could increase the risk of osteoporosis later in life, says an International Osteoporosis Foundation (IOF) report released to mark World Osteoporosis Day on Oct. 20.
Osteoporosis risk factors fall into two main categories, modifiable and fixed. People can't control fixed risk factors -- such as age, gender, and family history -- but they can do things that may lessen their effects.
Following a bone-healthy lifestyle -- including eating a nutritious diet, getting regular exercise, and avoiding smoking and excess alcohol consumption -- can help build strong bones and prevent fractures, the IOF said.
By 2050, it's estimated that the incidence of hip fracture (a major consequence of osteoporosis) will increase by 310 percent in men and 240 percent in women, according to IOF Chief Executive Officer Daniel Navid.
Report author and IOF board member Professor Cyrus Cooper said if "people recognize osteoporosis risk factors when they are young and take appropriate action, it can have enormous positive impact on their bone health in later years."
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